Every Bowl Game Ranked from Most to Least Interesting by 1,677 Fans

Sadly, the regular college football season for 2018 – 2019 has wrapped up. In less than a month, it will all be over, but we still have an exciting bowl season to look forward to. For many, bowl games are the most interesting part of the college football season. However, this season I’ve noticed that many, especially at Reddit/CFB, have voiced concerns about the lack of intriguing matchups compared to previous years. Even if there are fewer obvious barn burners jumping off the page this season, all college football fans have at least one or two bowl games circled on their calendar, and if you are a true fan, there will be more than a handful. So which bowl matchups are fans looking forward to most?

To answer this question, I conducted a MaxDiff Study among 1,677 college football fans nationwide with the goal of ranking all 39 bowl games from most to least interesting. The problem is that 39 items is way too many for most people to meaningfully rank. Because of this, I used the MaxDiff market research technique, which simplifies the ranking task. In contrast to a traditional ranking exercise (i.e. each respondent places a “1” by his most preferred item, a “2” beside his second most preferred item, and so on), respondents instead view sets containing only a few items and simply choose the most and least preferred items in the set. This breaks down the ranking task, making it less taxing and more efficient. It also makes it more fun and engaging for the respondents, and when respondents are engaged, they are more likely to give thoughtful opinions that truly reflect how they really feel.

In this research, respondents viewed sets containing five bowl games. In each set, they chose the bowl game they were most and least interested in watching.

At the end of data collection, I used fancy math (Hierarchical Bayes) to derive the bowl rankings for each respondent.

Who Participated In This Research?

The vast majority of the respondents in this research are hardcore college football fans. Nine out of ten (90%) indicated that they follow college football closely (4-5 on a 5-point scale). In addition to self-reporting a high level of college football knowledge, they also demonstrated it in the MaxDiff exercise by making logically consistent decisions reflective of informed, meaningful opinions. A relatively small number (~100) were thrown out due to an inability to make logically consistent opinions. From a data quality standpoint, this is actually pretty good, considering that market researchers routinely throw out 10% or more of respondents from corporate market research studies for dubious activity such as speeding or giving the same answer to every question.

Respondents represented fanbases from across the college football landscape. No single fanbase represented a sizeable enough percentage to sway the results in a particular direction. I’ve written extensively in previous posts why I think this sample is as good as it gets in terms of being representative of the average college football fan without spending thousands of dollars, so I won’t rehash that again here. All of this is to say that these are meaningful results.


Now to the Results

The most interesting takeaway? Fans want to see UCF. 

UCF’s showdown with LSU in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl rose to the top as the bowl game fans are most interested in seeing. Surprisingly, this game surpassed the Cotton Bowl and Orange Bowl – the two College Football Playoff semifinals.

We can speculate as to why this game is the one that college football fans are most interested in seeing. Firstly, it’s a novel matchup. This will be the first time in history these two programs have met. Secondly, there’s a built-in story line. Last season, UCF met Auburn in the Peach Bowl after an undefeated regular season. Many expected the Knights to be blown out, but they came out on top of their SEC opponents. This created a lot of conversation about whether Group of Five teams should be given more consideration for the College Football Playoff. For a second year in a row, UCF has run the table and has been left out of the Playoff conversation. Can the Knights once again defeat an SEC power and prove they belong in the Playoff picture?